Opinion

On Question Seven, Marylanders should ask five questions

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Any Marylander with a television knows by now that voters will answer an important question at the ballot box on Election Day. Question 7 -- as the recent deluge of TV ads has informed us -- lets voters decide whether to allow Maryland's first full-blown casino in Prince George's County. To resolve that dicey question (pun fully intended) Marylanders seem to be asking one another five fundamental questions. In the spirit of an informed electorate, let me submit the following answers:

* Is a vote for Question 7 a vote for more school funding? Yes and no. Yes, the state's share of revenue from a Prince George's casino is dedicated to public schools. No, this does not mean schools will see a penny more than they already get. If Question 7 passes, Maryland lawmakers will likely divert existing school funds to other pet projects once casino revenues start rolling in.

* Does Question 7 ban political contributions from casino interests? Sadly, it does not. It only prohibits contributions to Maryland candidates for nonfederal office. This could be a lucrative loophole for Gov. Martin O'Malley, who by virtue of term limits has nonfederal office in his rearview mirror. O'Malley can now claim that state lawmakers are cleansed of the casino money scourge while he quietly collects checks from casino interests for his 2016 presidential campaign. It's no coincidence that O'Malley opened his federal campaign account just three weeks before calling for the state-level prohibition.

* Will revenue from a new casino help the state's budget deficit? No, and it actually puts taxpayers on the hook for new spending obligations. If voters approve Question 7, taxpayers could be on the hook for $300 million in transportation-related payments to casino operators. Those same casino owners will enjoy tens of millions of dollars in special tax carve-outs that local small businesses do not enjoy. If approved, Question 7 will also renew $378 million in subsidies for the horse-racing industry for an additional five years. The new gambling revenue doesn't erase the $712 million budget deficit state lawmakers face next year.

* How close are the ties between Maryland politicians and casino supporters? Quite close. Casino interests hired former aides to Gov. O'Malley and Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, both of whom coincidentally appeared in TV ads backing the casino last week. Likewise, former state GOP Chairs Audrey Scott and Michael Steele have publicly backed the casino. Ms. Scott's son, Lawrence, is a paid consultant to casino proponents and a longtime Steele ally.

* Will a vote for Question 7 finally end Maryland's gambling debate? Not even close. Maryland's chief gambling advocate -- Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller -- already suggested that Prince George's County should get a second casino once Question 7 is settled. Such a venue can't be built without another legislative debate, another Constitutional amendment, another Election Day ballot question, and another deluge of television ads in the next election -- potentially making 2014 the fifth consecutive election cycle in Maryland to be dominated by gambling.

Maryland voters have two weeks until they enter the voting booth -- plenty of time to determine where they stand on Question 7. But if casino advocates expect Marylanders to vote "Yes" on Question 7, they need more convincing answers to the five questions Marylanders are asking most.

Christopher B. Summers is founder and president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise, limited government and civil society.

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